The SAMR Model: A critical perspective

This post may not win me many fans.  In some ways, offering a critical perspective of the SAMR Model is like attacking rainbows, puppy dogs and sunshine.  The SAMR Model is that beloved.  If you’re not familiar with the model, SAMR is designed to support technology integration in educational settings.  The model’s name is an acronym for different levels of technology integration, Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition.  Since Ruben Puentedura introduced it over a decade ago, the model has spread like wildfire across all areas of the educational landscape.

As I write this post, I want to make something abundantly clear.  I don’t hate the SAMR Model.  Some of my doctoral students have accused me of this recently but I really don’t dislike the model at all.  I first introduced the model on the 8 Blog in 2011 after encountering it in a technology training.   At the time, I thought the model could be used as a catalyst to inspire teachers to think about new ways to integrate technology into their classrooms.  I still feel this way.  Over the last five years, however, it has become the dominant model of technology integration in schools.  Because of this, I feel the need to offer some of my reservations.

  1.  The model needs a stronger evidence base.  Take a moment and go to one of the research databases (ERIC, Ebscohost, etc.).  Do a quick search on the SAMR Model and let me know what you find.  Or, take a look at some of the larger research-based conferences that study educational technology and research their programs or conference proceedings.  Across these settings, you’ll find few research-based studies that examine the SAMR model or provide an evidence base for its implementation.  I find this problematic, especially with how widely the model is used in schools to drive expensive technology implementation programs.  Advocates for the SAMR Model argue that the model is based on other research bases and that it “just makes sense.” My concern with this perspective is that as we teach our student to make evidence-based arguments and try to foster larger critical thinking skills, would we accept this argument from them?  I doubt it.
  2. The model oversimplifies the complex nature of classrooms and learning. Teaching is difficult work.  Expert teachers must navigate their knowledge bases of content, pedagogy and technology thousands of times during every lesson to effectively support student learning. Can this complex decision-making really be simplified into a four level model?  Research tells us “no.” Take the exhaustive work on technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK).  Throughout countless studies on TPACK, one thing is clear. Integrating technology effectively in classrooms is challenging and requires focused attention and support.
  3. The model is too techno-centric.  My main role at my institution is teaching beginning teachers to utilize instructional technology in their classrooms. While I’m often accused as being a “technology guy,” in reality, I see myself as a pedagogy person. I think my perspective is best captured in a quote I share with my students (and in most of the professional development sessions I offer).  In Technology, Pedagogy and Education, Diana Laurillard (2007) writes: “We have to be careful not to focus simply on what the technology offers, but rather on what the pedagogy requires.” The SAMR Model focuses too heavily on technology and the tasks it affords and not enough on the learning it supports.
  4. The model is vague. I’m sure some readers are going to wonder how a model can be too simple and too vague at the same time.  But hear me out.  Most people who use the SAMR Model can offer clear examples for the Substitution and Redefinition levels.  When focusing on the middle two levels, however, things can get a little murky.  Depending on who is assessing a technology-rich lesson, some could identify it as Augmentation while others may see it as Modification.  With some widespread training, this discrepancy could be corrected and the assessment could be normalized.  Then again, what value would this serve? If the primary focus isn’t on the learning supported by technology, is it really important how we label it?
  5. The model is stifling other conversations. Since its introduction a decade ago, many large educational technology companies have adopted the model as their primary foundation for teacher trainings. Because of this adoption, many educators refuse to consider other models or perspectives.  Are you familiar with the Technology Integration Matrix? Developed at the University of South Florida, the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) offers a different view on the use of educational technology.  When I share the TIM with teachers and administrators, they balk at it.  “The SAMR is much simpler to use,” they argue.  While I also have reservations about the TIM, should we be solely guided by simplicity? In a lot of ways, the dominance of the SAMR Model has kept other models of integration from being fully examined and vetted.  SAMR is a good model that is keeping great conversations from happening.

I have an undergraduate degree in physics.  In one of my favorite classes, the History of Science, we studied primary documents that demonstrated the larger discussions, debates and discoveries that happened throughout history to inform scientific thought.  I offer this post as a way to hopefully begin a larger discussion about models of technology integration.  Feel free to contribute by commenting below or emailing me at: oliver.dreon@millersville.edu

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2 thoughts on “The SAMR Model: A critical perspective

  1. Pingback: Best of 2016 – Part 2 | The 8 Blog

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